As the most watched sporting event in the United States, the Superbowl has long been the holy grail of advertising. So much so that the commercials featured during the Super Bowl have become just as much a staple of American entertainment as the game itself.
Icons of marketing like the Budweiser frogs have made their first appearances during the Superbowl, as did viral legends like the Nissan pigeons and Volkswagen Vader kid. Even the sudden surge in popularity for Betty White began with a Superbowl commercial for Snickers.
Of course, for all of these legends of advertising, there are just as many dark stains. The Superbowl was the venue for the first ad featuring Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny that was the inspiration for the abomination known as “Space Jam”. More recently, the Superbowl became the start of a nationwide controversy after Tim Tebow appeared in an ad for the far-right organization Focus on the Family.
Yet, in spite of there being just as many marketing disasters as gold mines in the history of the Superbowl, competition among advertisers has progressed rapidly over the years. Whether competing for the attention of the tens of millions watching, or for the free advertising done by daytime talk shows as they discuss the hits (and controversies) among advertisers, Superbowl advertising has become more aggressive with every passing year.
The most recent development in this competition, perhaps ironically, is a practice of releasing ads before the Superbowl to generate buzz and rally supporters prematurely.
Two car companies have already done this: Kia and Mercedes-Benz. And the fact that they released their ads in advance is the only thing they have in common.
On one hand, you have Kia, a Korean company best known for two things: Producing several models that are easily affordable, and the Soul Hamsters.
Their commercial, dubbed “Space Babies”, for the 2014 Sorento has a coherent narrative, a very high production value, and an amusing punchline.
Then on the other hand, we have the reason this qualifies for a Bad TV article.
Mercedes-Benz is an icon, not just of the European auto industry, but of the luxury market as a whole. Yet you wouldn’t know it by the Superbowl ad they have produced.
The ad, titled “Kate Upton Washes the All-New Mercedes-Benz CLA in Slow Motion” (I kid you not) features the aforementioned Upton doing nothing except show off her “assets” to a bunch of kids who are washing the car for her.
Production value for the ad is virtually nonexistent. It doesn’t even take place on an actual set. In fact, it looks more like they just pulled over and rushed production at the most nondescript place they could find so they could film the ad without getting busted for not acquiring the rights to do so.
The punchline, after a full minute of nothing but Upton posing provocatively, is her approaching the car and telling the poor dumb kids “You missed a spot.”
And most offensive of all is the cheapness of the ad’s appeal, namely to blatant and unapologetic sex appeal.
Give Kate Upton a cowboy hat and a foot-long hoagie and you have a full portrait of the American stereotype.
This is a company that makes cars that sell for more than most Americans make in a year. What exactly possessed Mercedes to think Americans would be more likely to spend that kind of money for their product knowing that this is what the company’s top brass think of them?
The only logical explanation as to why a company would buy such a highly valued advertising spot only to do something this tacky with it would be if they were banking on criticism being just as lucrative as praise.
If so, they have achieved the desired results. The ad has been harshly criticized and panned near-universally even among male viewers.